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Legislative update: What's moving forward — and what's not — on the environment beat

Members of Washington's Environmental Priorities Coalition say they're making good progress on the legislative agenda they set for this session. The agenda comes out of annual cooperative agreements between more than 20 organizations statewide.

With the cutoff deadline looming Wednesday afternoon, the coalition’s lobbyist Clifford Traisman says two of the four bills they supported are moving forward.

The first would create a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at retail stores. They would instead have to provide paper or thick-plastic bags and charge a fee. That bill is supported by major grocery chains and has passed out of the Senate. It will have a hearing in the house on Thursday.

Heather Trim, with the nonprofit Zero Waste Washington, says momentum for bag bans is growing nationwide.

“And in Washington, we have 37 local ordinances in place, so we feel like we’re at the tipping point.” Trim said. “33 percent of Washington’s population is now in locations that have bag ordinances that have passed.”

Next on the legislation that’s still alive: a bill that would update the greenhouse gas reduction limits currently written into Washington state law.

“This would be the first update on those limits, since 2008, to be more in line with updated science,” Traisman said. It would require more aggressive climae action from communities statewide.

He adds that they’re “very optimistic” they can get that bill out of the Senate and to the governor’s office for signature. 

A little less certain is the other climate-action priority bill, the Clean Fuels Standard.  It would promote alternatives to reduce carbon pollution from transportation. It’s still alive, but not yet scheduled for a senate hearing and faces opposition from the oil industry. A regional version of this policy is also in the works, with leaders of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency vowing to move forward if the state this year again fails to act.

The coalition’s fourth initiative did not make it out of the house. The Healthy Habitat, Healthy Orcas bill seeks a new standard in land use and development that would require "net ecological gain," rather than the current goal of no net loss. The coalition says restoring Puget Sound and protecting local habitat will remain a priority over the next several years.

Heather Trim’s group, Zero Waste Washington, has a bumper crop of legislation before state legislators this year.  In addition to the bag ban, she’s highlighting the proposal for a statewide ban on Styrofoam in most food service. It failed to move forward in the house, but got bipartisan support to move out of the Senate on Feb. 17. Trim says Washington would be the fourth state in the nation to have this kind of policy, if it passes.  

And one that she’s a little surprised to see moving forward is the proposed ban on water bottling companies tapping new, spring-fed sources.

“Statewide – and it would be the first state in the U.S.,” Trim said.

“This came out of Randle, in Lewis County. The community was very upset – is very upset – about Crystal Geyser, who’s proposing a bottling plant there, using their local water.”

That water is needed for other uses, such as irrigation, tap water, healthy fish habitat and recreation. And Trim says more and more communities are recognizing this and not wanting to see the water bottled in plastic containers.

After the deadline Wednesday for legislation to pass out of its house of origin, most of these proposals move next to committee hearings in the other chamber. Several of them will be heard in environment committees on Thursday.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to